Last summer I was at a rummage sale, and as I made my way through the mounds of kids’ clothing I struck up a conversation with a woman next to me. She asked if I was shopping because I was having a baby. I explained that no way, no how was I going to have more kids. “I’m done with that phase, and you couldn’t convince me to go down the road of sleepless nights, daycare, potty training ...”
I was somewhere in the middle of that list when she turned to me and I could clearly see she was pregnant. Awkward. Then she proceeded to tell me her youngest child was 7, and this pregnancy wasn’t what she planned. I felt compelled to ask how she was handling things now. She looked me dead in the face and said, “I cried every day for the first month.”
But for others, having another baby several years from their last is joyous from the start. “We are beyond ecstatic and happy about the newest addition to our family,” wrote Kelly Preston on her website after the birth of her son Benjamin last November. Remarkable was the fact that Preston was 48 and having a baby. She is the newest member of the latest trend of “split” moms: women who have children at least ten years apart.
Rallie McAllister, family physician and co-author of The Mommy MD Guide to Pregnancy and Birth and The Mommy MD Guide to Baby’s First Year, may have been the one to have coined the moniker “split moms.” She used it to describe herself in a television interview. Her oldest son is 27, and her younger boys are 15 and 14.
She’s been practicing medicine since 1997 and has seen more mommies starting all over again.
Why the increase? One thing is the divorce rate. McAllister, who’s 48, explains, “When I was young most of us had kids right after college, but people are remarrying and want to have a family with their new soul mate.”
McAllister adds that perception has changed, too. “We have realized that at 40 we are not too old to have kids. Our mothers were ready to be grandmothers at that age. But for many women it’s still a question; it’s on the table for women in their 40s.”
What do you need to consider when deciding to be a split mom? McAllister advises to first consider your fertility. Then take a look at where you are in life and if this is really something you are passionate about doing. “And,” she says, “be financially prepared.”
McAllister thought having another baby would be easy. But from wipe warmers to car seats, so much had changed since her oldest son was born. She admits, “It was new and foreign. It was really like starting over from scratch.”
But there is an upside to having kids far apart in age. Many women had babies when they were young and struggling. McAllister says of herself as an older parent to her younger child: “I was less rigid and more effective. I didn’t over parent.”
Karen Stokes, a local split mom, has a 28-year-old daughter, and two sons, 16 and 13. Like McAllister, she had her second and third children during her second marriage. Stokes knows she was a much better parent with her younger kids just by virtue of being older. She was more mature the second and third time around.
There were things her sons had that her daughter didn’t, like the baby swing she considered the best invention ever made. On the other hand, her daughter had a baby walker, but by the time her son was born 11 years later, walkers were off the market due to safety issues.
“My daughter was born in ’82 my son in ’94,” says Stokes. “When my daughter was a baby I used a diaper service, but with my son I bought diapers. At the store they had diapers by sizes, -girl diapers, boy diapers-—I was hormonal and I just sat there and cried. It was very overwhelming.”
Nancy Marseo can relate. When she had her son it had been 13 years since she’d had an infant. Technology alone caused her anxiety. During a trip to the store she went to put her son’s car seat in the top portion of a grocery cart. As she did that she heard a clicking sound as the seat locked in place on the cart. When she got the shopping cart to the car she couldn’t get the car seat detached from it. Embarrassed and not sure what else to do, she took the baby out of his car seat and left it in the shopping cart. She sat in her car and called a friend who told her how to unlock the car seat.
Marseo’s children are 25, 24, 9 and 6 years old. When she had her two oldest children she was married to their father. Eventually they divorced and she met a new love and became pregnant. When that relationship ended, Marseo found herself a single mom going through pregnancy. She never thought she would have kids after such a large gap in time.
“It felt like I was lost,” Marseo recalls. “I cried for eight of the nine months I was pregnant.” She says her older kids could make their own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and she was going to be changing diapers.
Most parents have some type of cutoff time for having more kids. If you still have the onesies and the crib from your last baby you might not have reached that point. But just how much of a gap would you choose to have between having kids? Ten years is a long time.
So if you’re thinking about being a split mom, there’s a lot to consider: the toys, the technology, the gadgets—they all change.
But some things stay the same: the cooing, the snuggling, the first steps, that brand new baby smell. And whether you wait two or ten years to have your next baby, those are things worth waiting for.
This story originally appeared in the May 2011 edition of metroparent magazine.